Archive for August 1st, 2012

A pleasant and productive geological walk in the woods

August 1st, 2012

WOOSTER, OHIO–One of the best parts of my job is answering questions from the public about rocks and fossils. Now that I’m Secretary of the Paleontological Society, I get queries every day about something or other. (And since my brief stint on Ancient Aliens, some of my mail is predictably bizarre!) Sometimes the questions are local and students and I get to meet enthusiastic amateur geologists in the field. This morning Andy Nash (’14) and I drove a few miles north of Wooster to look at curious rocks a family had collected, and to walk through their stone-filled creek. It was delightful.

This part of Ohio has many exotic rocks scattered across its surface in Pleistocene glacial till. These rocks have their origin on the Canadian Shield and include just about every igneous and metamorphic lithology you can imagine. The family we visited had many examples of these glacial erratics. The most impressive rocks to Andy and me were pieces of the Gowganda Tillite, one of which is shown above. This rock represents lithified glacial till and is a very impressive 2.3 billion (billion-with-a-“b”) years old. This great age, plus the fact that it is a tillite within a till, makes these variegated rocks very special. The family is going to donate this one to the department, even though it will take a tractor to haul it out!

Another bonus for our brief visit was this creek exposure of the Meadville Shale Member of the Cuyahoga Formation (Kinderhookian, Carboniferous). An outcrop like this so close to campus will be useful for future paleontology field trips and maybe even an Independent Study project or two. The family that owns the land is very excited to share it. (By the way, my first paper was on a trilobite collected from the Meadville Shale in Lodi, Ohio.)

The shale outcrop is periodically broken up by floods on this little creek. Here you see scattered pieces of the gray shale, many of which have trace and body fossils in them. This shale weathers rapidly, exposing the fossils quickly. The downside of that is that the fossils are also destroyed quickly by weathering. They need the kind attention of paleontologists!

This is why we love to answer questions about geology: everyone learns in the process!

Busy Wooster geology labs this summer

August 1st, 2012

WOOSTER, OHIO–This has been a particularly active summer in Scovel Hall, home of Wooster’s Geology Department. All our fieldwork eventually results in labwork, so our student geologists have been spending quality time with rocksaws, microscopes, computers and x-ray analytical equipment. I thought it might be fun to walk through the building recording the good science going on.

In the above scene, Kit Price (’13) is cutting Late Ordovician limestones containing fossils she collected on our field trip to Indiana last Saturday. Rest assured that she has all the safety equipment for this saw! Her hands are necessarily close to the diamond-studded blade to control the specimen that she cuts. She is trimming matrix away from the fossils so that they are easier to study and store.

Former student Dr. Katherine Nicholson Marenco (’03) visited this summer from Bryn Mawr to continue work on her Independent Study project on Jurassic fossils from southern England. She brought many new ideas to this work, helped us considerably on the Indiana field trip, and even took the time to train us on using Adobe Illustrator software for geological projects. Above she is wrapping up Jurassic specimens for later study in her lab.

Katherine and I plotted out ideas for our work on the English Jurassic fossils with the chalkboard in the paleontology lab. For some reason I find it easier to think with chalk in my hand!

Also in the paleontology lab is Richa Ekka (’13) continuing her work on Silurian specimens we collected on the southeast coast of Saaremaa Island in Estonia last month. She has made certain all her specimens are properly cleaned, sorted and labeled (“sample management”), and has now started on thin-sections and sedimentological analysis.

Tricia Hall (’14) was part of Team Utah earlier this summer. Now she is working on basalt specimens in the fancy new x-ray analytical lab set up by Dr. Meagen Pollock.

The coolest thing she is doing (well, the hottest, actually) is producing glass “beads” of powdered rock and flux by melting the mixture in an automatic spinning furnace that heats up to more than 1000°C. These beads are then used in the x-ray fluorescence spectrometer for elemental analysis. Above you can see the glowing orange puddle of artificial lava as it cools after being poured from the furnace.

The dendrochronology lab of Dr. Greg Wiles is as busy as ever this summer. The students there are measuring tree ring widths for a variety of projects, including the Independent Study projects of Jenn Horton (’13; above) and Lauren Vargo (’13; below) based on work they did in Alaska this June.

Will Cary (’13) is also working in the dendrochronology lab this summer. His Independent Study involves the ballistics of volcanic bombs in Utah, but he’s spending some time as a digital image expert for Dr. Wiles.

Andy Nash (’14) has been measuring tree-ring widths and doing a little coring for Dr. Wiles this summer. He may miss the quiet days in this air-conditioned lab when he starts two-a-day practices for the football team in ten days.

Nick Wiesenberg has been working in the dendrochronology lab for a long time now. He has an intuitive feel for wood. Here he shows the device for calculating tree ring widths by precisely moving them under a microscope set up with a measuring device.

During all this labwork, our two main Scovel lecture rooms are being extensively renovated to give us a fresh beginning with our fall semester courses that begin in less than a month. It can be a bit hectic, all this activity, but our Administrative Coordinator Patrice Reeder is keeping it all under control. It is refreshing to see such happy enthusiasm for the geological sciences.